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Colin Mackay

Colin, author of A History of Phuket and the Surrounding Region, describes how a globetrotting life took him to Phuket with a view to write, where for the past five years he’s worked to uncover more about the remarkable past of his adopted island home.

August 2013

Where are you from?
I’m Scottish, but I was born in Kenya and grew up in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

What did you do before you came to Phuket?
I studied history at the University of Edinburgh, then when I finished university I went to Hong Kong and was a journalist. I was adventurous, going to Cambodia to cover the war, among other things, but I soon realised that as a journalist you’re basically a prostitute. You don’t have the freedom to write what you want because you have to write what the market needs. You’ve got to have money to do that. I saw that lawyers and stock brokers had all the beautiful girls and the nice houses. So that’s when I slipped into the financial markets.

My main dream was to salvage shipwrecks, so when I made my first million at the age of 28, I went off for five years salvaging shipwrecks until all the money was gone. I worked mainly in the Domincan Republic and salvaged 32 ships, we found bronze cannons, porcelains, silver coins, and many other valuable old artefacts and we filled two maritime archeology museums. I then returned to making money and started a fund in Germany and raised over 100 million USD to invest in Asia. I was based in Hong Kong again but when the baht collapsed in 1998 I moved to Phuket as I loved the place and saw opportunities here. I eventually sold my fund company and next became one of the first foreign property developers in Phuket, completing several trendy beach developments.

Your book, A History of Phuket, was recently published. Please tell us more about this project.
I love history. Everywhere I go I read up on its history because that's my first love. When I started researching more for my own education, I realised there’s little you could find out about what really happened here. I thought, hold on, we’ve got eight million tourists here and no history.

What I did find reading Thai history is how turgid it was. So I looked at how I could make this interesting without changing it, so that you actually want to read it. There are lots of gory stories about just how awful people were to each other here. For example, you never hear about how the Burmese did take this island, which they did on six occasions. You hear only about the one battle where they saved the fort. That’s how it came about. I didn’t realise it would be five years’ work. I never set out to make money. It was a labour of love.

Whereabouts do you live in Phuket? What determined your choice of location?
I live in Baan Manik, which is between the Heroines’ monument and Cherng Talay. I used to live in Surin, then in Bangtao because when you first live here you want to live near the beach. But then we got a nice plot of land near the reservoir and it’s nice and quiet. Most importantly it’s in a central location. I have to run my kids to school at Phuket International Academy every day, and it’s near my wife’s office.

Can you tell us more about your family?
My wife, Ana, is from Ao Leuk, Krabi. She has an accounting and law office and is doing very well. We have two daughters, aged three and six, and I have a 22-year-old daughter (from a previous marriage) in the Dominican Republic, who will finish university next year in hotel management.

What do you do with your free time, if you have any?
I take my kids to do fun things, I run with the hash house harriers, play golf, drink and party way too much, go travelling and read a lot. I also go mountain biking with a group of friends and once or twice a year we do mountain bike tours. Over the last few years we've cycled across Madagascar, Hispaniola and Burma. I’m 53 now and I had heart surgery a couple of years ago, but before that I was doing triathlons. I think I did eight Phuket triathalons. Ill do it again, but I’m waiting till I’m 55 and in an even older age bracket before I do another one!

I also go boating. I have a hobie cat but it was just destroyed on the beach. Some ya bah boys cut everything up and stole the mast. I’m waiting till the kids are a year or two older then I’ll get a speedboat. But I don’t really want to squander my own money on boats as I’ve got plenty of friends who squander their own money on them.

So how do you squander your money?
Travelling, bad investments and partying.

What do you think the future holds for you?
I’d like to keep doing what I’m doing, which is travelling with the family, doing some investments to make some money and keep my brain going. I’m an investor in a new steam train project from Danang to Hue in Vietnam. I’m investing in coal mining in Kyrgyzstan. I’ve got agarwood trees up north and mahogany trees in Sri Lanka, and I trade in the stock markets. I’m looking at companies and I’m always looking at deals.

I want to keep writing. I'm now working on a new novel set in this region in the 1780s. I’d like to have 20 novels out before I’m done. I’d like to work more with the history of the island, such as discovering the location of the fort that was so well defended, nobody can tell me where it is. We all know roughly where it was but no one knows exactly. It should be found and it should be promoted. There should be archaeological digs.

What are you most proud of?
I’d say my colourful life. I’ve had a very colourful life. I love my kids and family, and I’m pretty proud of achieving this book, too. But more than that I’ve really enjoyed my life and got around. I could have stayed in Hong Kong and made several more millions, but instead when I had what I perceived as just enough money I'd go off to do interesting things. I’ve visited nearly every country in the world – about 175 so far. I'd like to have visited every country in the world by the end of my days.

A History of Phuket and the Surrounding Region is available at branches of Seng Ho, Asia Books and selected outlets in Phuket.

For more information visit: www.historyofphuket.com

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